A White Christmas and a Winter Harvest

We spent Christmas in Montana with my son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters home from college. It was snowing when we were picked up at the airport and kept snowing for the next four days. About 24″ in all. I call this a Montana snow gauge. It’s a piece of plywood on a post and in the summer it’s a bird feeder. In the winter it makes a handy snow gauge.

Montana show gauge

The snow was beautiful. It’s been years since we’ve experienced a white Christmas.The house should be on a Christmas card. In Montana life doesn’t stop because of snow. We drove through snow covered roads to see the new Star Wars movie. I have to say I was a little disappointed. Maybe because I must have missed some of the intervening movies.

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Warm and cozy inside the house, we knit, baked cookies, and my granddaughters made a Kransekakke – a Norwegian wreath cake. The recipe is: 1 lb ground almonds, 1 lb confectioners sugar, 3 egg whites. The dough is rolled into snakes and put into special pans which create 18 rings – each a little smaller than the one before. This has become a tradition for the Christmases we spend in Montana. Traditionally you remove the rings from the bottom up so the tree shape remains. We took a vote and after Christmas dinner (where everything on the table with the exception of a can of cream of mushroom soup came from the homestead), and began eating the cake from the top down.

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When I posted pictures of the snow on Facebook people responded that they had the AC on on Christmas day on the Eastern Shore. We came home yesterday and today I went to my raised bed at the St. Michaels Community Garden. Here’s my harvest from December 29th, 2015. Kale, chard, spinach, hakuri turnips and carrots.

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I was wondering when the seed catalogs would start to arrive. This is what was in the mail we picked up at the post office Tuesday morning. Spring gardening will be here before I know it. In the meantime, somebody needs to tell the daffodils NOT YET! Plants on the
Eastern Shore are very confused because of the warm temps.

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An Early Christmas Gift

Yesterday I had errands to do and every time I got out of the car I was hit by the nasty cold wind. Winter had finally arrived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My last stop was the Bank of America. They closed their branch in St. Michaels a couple of years ago, including what I call the Magic Money Machine. It’s really inconvenient. We have to drive fifteen minutes to get cash, so we try to combine that errand with others in Easton.

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Anyway, my last errand was the bank. The woman in front of me was trying to get a check cashed. The teller told her she had to take the check to the bank where she had an account. Apparently she had already been to that bank but it wasn’t open on Saturday morning. I heard her say she couldn’t drive because of her eyes and had walked from home. When she turned to go I asked her if she wanted to wait and I would drive her to her bank and then back home. I was finished with my errands and didn’t have a pot of anything on the stove that needed tending. She demurred, not wanting to inconvenience me. I again said I’d be happy to give her a lift and reminded her how cold and windy it was outside. So she said yes.

The open branch of her bank was on the other side of town by the Walmart, so we had time to chat. By the end of the ride she had me on her prayer list for my husband’s feet and for me to be more patient. I need all the help I can get in that department.

She was a calm presence in my car for those twenty minutes – an early Christmas gift during this busy time. She thought I was helping her!

So, thank you, Betty, for accepting my offer of a ride. It was the bright spot of my morning. I know you don’t do computers, but you have my phone number. I hope I’ll hear from you because I’m sure I’ll need your prayers in the future.

Letter to an Obnoxious Little Girl

Dear Little Girl,

You stood in line at Santa’s Wonderland last weekend waiting to come into the Shop and Wrap room. That’s where there are tables full of donated items that kids can buy for their parents and siblings for 25 cents. I was one of the volunteers helping kids wrap their gifts.

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© Roxichka25 | Dreamstime.com – Little Smiling Girl Photo

The people at the door were supposed to let one child in at a time who would be helped by one adult. They were also supposed to tell kids the rules: they could select six gifts, if they needed more for their family, they had to get in line again.

Suddenly you were at my side with a basket full of gifts. Way, way over the limit. When I gently told you you’d have to put some back, you whined. I don’t like whiners. That kind of set the tone, but almost immediately you realized that whining wasn’t going to get you anywhere. So, you began to argue with me. These weren’t the rules last year. Nobody told you the rules had changed. Why did we have these dumb rules anyway?

I tried my best to be patient but you were really getting on my nerves. Finally your seven (okay I did give in a little and there did seem to be some confusion about what the volunteers at the door were telling the kids) gifts were wrapped and you went out to get in line again.

After the event I kept thinking about you. I wondered why I experienced you as so annoying.

Here’s what I think it was. I was a little girl in the 50’s. We were supposed to wear dresses, be polite and never question adults. I ended up in the Principal’s office a number of times because I did.

The message to girls in the 50’s was be submissive, defer to boys and adults and generally keep quiet. Those weren’t the rules in my house. I had two educated, liberal parents, but the world gave me very different messages.

Those recordings in my brain still get activated from time to time and you turned them on, reminding me of the little girl I used to be. Thank you. I still need to work on those messages.

Here’s my advice. Cut the whining, but keep asking questions. Rules do change and sometimes it’s important to ask why, because sometimes the rules are just plain stupid. Your question might be the one that gets adults to rethink a policy. You’ll learn to pick your battles, but don’t automatically defer and don’t be submissive. Maybe if women of my generation had been more assertive we wouldn’t still be fighting for equal wages.

 

 

 

 

 

YOYO Dinners

It’s been a couple of weeks of day and evening meetings. I’ve only been home for dinner once. It’s just that time of year. My husband has had way too many YOYO dinners (You’re On Your Own.) By last Friday I was ready to slouch on the couch in my yoga pants and have a glass of wine in front of the fire.

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These are the Christmas treats I made for Santa’s Wonderland at Christmas in St. Michaels next weekend. This is the first time I’ve volunteered to help with the kids. I know they will be adorable. Then I thought about those runny noses. I don’t have a lot of interaction with little children any more so we don’t get the twenty-four hour flu that used to rampage through our family or the upper respiratory viruses that turned us all into mouth breathers. Oh, well, too late now. I’d probably scare the little darlings if I wore a face mask.

These no-bake “cookies” were  easy. Put a pretzel round on a baking sheet. I used a sheet pan with sides because the rounds are slippery. I didn’t want the batch to end up on the floor. Put a Hershey’s kiss (unwrapped) on each pretzel and put in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes. Take them out and push an m&m into each soft kiss.

There was no room in my fridge so I cooled mine in the garage and then bagged them in the cello bags and tied them up with red ribbons. Very festive. I might do a gluten free version of this with a gluten free pretzel although, truth be told, neither one of us needs the calories. Unwrapping the kisses and sorting out the red and green m&ms took the most time. This would be a fun project if you have young children or grandchildren.

One of the nights out was my Working Writers Forum. Another night out was an Eastern Shore Writers Association Board meeting. Tonight it’s a meeting of the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference group so another YOYO dinner for the husband. Thank goodness he doesn’t mind leftovers.

Last Thursday was our dining out group – five couples who dine together once a month.. We had dinner at Scossa in Easton. We love that restaurant. One of our group had brought flashing Rudolph noses for the guys and Santa ear headbands for the gals. I never want to grow up. Wednesday night we are having a gathering of writers at our house. I might just wear that flashing Rudolph nose.

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‘Tis the Season

I grew up with a Norwegian mother (second generation in the US) and a German father (the Schippers had been here longer). Because immigrants back then were intent on assimilating, neither my mother nor my father grew up speaking Norwegian or German. A lost opportunity. I don’t recall any specific ethnic traditions in our household. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t create my own.

One Christmas season my brother, Ross, made a kransekake – a Norwegian wreath cake which consists of eighteen sequentially smaller rings stacked one upon the other. I was impressed so I got the recipe and tried it. Trying to figure out the sizes of those rings was interesting and I don’t have a photo of that first attempt. It was a very wonky tower, but the rings were quite tasty.

A few Christmases later my brother and his wife, Linda, gave me a set of kransekake pans. Now the rings would be exactly the right size. However the ground almond, confectioners sugar and egg white mixture that is the recipe needed tweaking. I was grinding my almonds in my food processor and the dough puffed up too much. However, by that time I had involved my Montana granddaughters in baking a kransekake when we did a Montana Christmas. Those girls are all grown up now, but have requested baking a kransekake when we visit at Christmas this year. It’s become a tradition.

Ross told me he ground his blanched almonds in a coffee grinder. I went on line to YouTube for more instructions, then ordered a coffee grinder on Amazon. I had it (free shipping) in two days. I love Amazon Prime.

Yesterday I was ready. One of my yogi friends, Diane French, came to help. We discovered we needed to start the grinding process in the food processor to make the almonds into smaller pieces. Almonds are bigger than coffee beans! Duh. Then we decided to put the ground almonds through a sieve to make sure all the leftover almond bits were taken out and put through the grinder again. We made the dough and let it rest according to the recipe.

We rolled the dough into ropes the size of a pinkie finger and began filling the rings in the pans.

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The rings are baked at 396 degrees for 12 minutes. We learned that they needed to be cooled completely before we took them out of the non-stick pans.

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Next came the job of stacking the rings. They are quite close in size so there is probably a method, but we eyeballed it. White frosting is put on each ring and the next smaller size is laid on top. The frosting acts as a glue.

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We used white frosting in one of those spray cans. Here is the completed cake. It is a little wonky from one angle, but this is it’s best side. A turntable would have helped. I’ll get cans of red and  green frosting and decorate the cake with holly. It will be even more festive when that is done. Traditionally it might have had Norwegian flags on it or Christmas crackers. This cake is also served at Norwegian weddings.

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I have to say that grinding the almonds in the coffee grinder made a difference. This is the best and prettiest kranskake I’ve made. However, those first couple done with the grand-girls are the ones I’ll really remember and the fact that there is now a Norwegian tradition in our family. For those who are wondering, the kake is served from the bottom ring up. Several bottom rings are removed and each ring is cut into pieces. In this way, the rest of the kake remains in the shape of a Christmas tree.

This holiday treat is going to the Woman’s Club on St. Michaels on Wednesday. Laura Ambler and I are the program for the December meeting. We’ll be talking about how we turned our Christmas memory book, The Santa Diaries, into a produced Christmas play of the same name. ‘Tis the season of memories and making traditions.